The Answer To Jason's Question
Poor Jason. He had to go and ask the question. And of course I have to try to give him a passable answer.
What is your favourite book? Top 5?
This question is harder to answer than it seems, because different books speak to me at different times. Loving a book often says as much about who you were when you first read it as it does about the quality of the story between the covers. The five books that top my list currently are the ones I cannot imagine living without. They're the ones I'm compelled to reread on a regular basis, and the ones I regularly beg people to try.
A Prayer For Owen Meany
I have never read a better book than this one, and I doubt I ever will. It's about faith. It's about doubt. It's about finding meaning and redemption from what appears to be the random cruelty of God. It's about sinners. It's about saints. Most of all it's about two boys growing up in America. If I ever have a son he will be named Owen, and it will be in tribute to this book.
Gone With The Wind
Scarlett O'Hara is a bitch who isn't all that pretty. Or at least that's my paraphrase of Margaret Mitchell's opening paragraph. This is the book that made me a feminist, and the book that made me want to be the Melanie Wilkes brand of feminist. I'm more like Scarlett in that I'm not much to look at but I'm stubborn as fire. But when Melanie Wilkes has the baby without help and then rises from her sickbed to shoot the Yankee you see the steel within her kind heart. Reading this book is like visiting all the parts of who you were and who you want to become. Everyone in the story is in a type of bondage--black slaves under the lash, white women in the cutthroat petticoat battalions and men who are slaves to a dead code and a dying honour.
The Winds of War & War And Remembrance
I love epics, I love history and I love the study of the strategy of war. These two books--I consider them two volumes of one book--are the perfect storm of literature for me. It's grand history through the eyes of normal people, which is how History happens for the largest part of the world. It used to be a tossup between these books and Marge Piercy's Gone To Soldiers, but I think Wouk won out for two reasons. The first, Pug Henry, is a gallant hero, but vastly unlike what you'd expect. His short stature, taciturn nature and plainspokenness make him the perfect surrogate for the reader as he meets everyone from Churchill to Hitler. The second are the interstitials from fictional General Armin Von Roon's account of the Nazi strategy of war prosecution. There are many novels about WWII, yet they all seem to forget that the War itself was a compelling character. These are the only WWII books I've read that give equal weight to personal stories and the arching strategem of the global conflict.
My Life And Hard Times
I'm not allowed to read anything by James Thurber around other people anymore. The first time I read anything by him was when my 8th grade English class read "The Night The Bed Fell" aloud. I was so caught up in the story and my visualisations of it (aunts throwing shoes down the hall at imagined intruders) that I started laughing uncontrollably. I ended up being sent into the hall until I could control myself, which never happened. Not only did I miss the whole class period, I had the biology teacher coming into the hall to see why I was in hysterics. No one believed it was because of the story. To this day my 8th grade English teacher marvels at it--she had never before seen anyone laugh so much at anything. Since she's my mother she brings it up a lot and periodically buys me Thurber stories. The last time I read a Thurber story around another person I was in bed with my husband. For awhile. He kicked me out when I about broke the bed in laughter. He still says "Perth Amboy" to me occasionally to set me laughing.
Before Harry this spot was occupied by Les Miserables, a book I first read (ironically) because the women read it in Gone With the Wind. But Harry has most of the best elements of Hugo's book without being so completely French. Both books have mistreated orphans rescued by the kind hand of fate. Both books have greedy, asinine comic villains, earnest students and tragic dead mothers. Both books have kindly religious leaders who are almost saintly in nature. Harry has unicorns, mermaids and a dry sense of humour that Hugo checked at the door.
The legend of Hugo has him submitting the manuscript for Les Miserables to his publisher with a simple cover letter that read:
The publisher is said to have responded with a letter that read: !
I imagine if the same publisher were responding to Harry Potter, he would send a letter that said: :-) !!!!
There are the five books. They're all fiction. I've got non-fiction favourites, but those I like for other reasons and would be apples to the oranges on this list.